tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

How TV Affects Brainwaves


Here’s an excerpt from my new brainwave page.

Please let me know if you have any questions, suggestions for improvements, etc…

Also, this is just an excerpt, for more complete information please go to:

How Does TV Affect Brainwaves?

“Formal Features” are the camera cuts, pans, zooms, etc. used very frequently in TV and movies. Because these “formal features” are so novel, and different from normal everyday reality, they trigger the brain’s “orienting response”.  The “orienting response” is an important brain reflex that alerts us when there is a change in the environment.  This “orienting response” is an essential survival mechanism because it forces us to pay attention to any (potentially dangerous) changes in the environment.  Because of the involuntary nature of the “orienting response”, another name for it is “involuntary attention”.

It turns out that the “orienting response” has a particular brainwave effect. Namely, when the “orienting response” is triggered, the alpha brainwaves decrease. This decrease in alpha waves has the effect of making the brain more alert. Once the brain ascertains that whatever triggered the “orienting response” is not a threat, the Alpha brainwaves quickly return to their previous level.

Also, during the “orienting response” (“involuntary attention”) the Gamma brainwaves disappear. This decrease in Gamma waves has the effect of breaking the person’s focus. Unlike the Alpha brainwaves, the Gamma brainwaves have a harder time returning to their previous levels. If the “orienting response” is triggered too often (as with TV watching) the brain stays unfocused.

For example: say you are quietly sitting in a forest, relaxing and letting your mind drift. All of a sudden you hear a roar. Instantly your “orienting response” is triggered, forcing you out of your reverie, and into a more alert state until you can ascertain what to do. In that case, the “orienting response” has had the effect of speeding up your brainwaves, from alpha (relaxation) to beta (alert). Now, lets repeat this little thought experiment, but with a difference. Say you are sitting in a forest playing your guitar. All of a sudden you hear a roar. Instantly, your “orienting response” is triggered, breaking your concentration, and putting your brain into an alert (but not focused) state until you can ascertain what to do. In that case, the “orienting response” has had the effect of slowing down your brainwaves, from hi-beta and gamma (focused concentration) to beta (alert).

And that is how watching television effects the brainwaves. The frequent “formal features” such as camera cuts and zooms, trigger the viewer’s “orienting response” over and over again.  The result is a brain that is alert, but not focused. The greater the frequency of these formal features, the fewer the number of fast brainwaves, the less focused the mind.

Note: the Orienting Response has been a natural part of human (and mammalian) history for millennium. But this is the first time in the history of humankind where people are spending large amounts of time having their Orienting Response evoked continually every 3 to 10 seconds for hours on end. What are the effects on the mind and brain – particularly on the brains of young children.

Note: an important feature of the Orienting Response is Habituation. For example, the sound of a gunshot will trigger the Orienting Response. But if you go to a gun range and hear the sound of gunshots over and over again, your brain will habituate, and the Orienting Response will no longer be triggered. While watching TV, doesn’t the brain Habituate to the “formal features”? No, for some reason the brain does not Habituate to the “formal features” of TV. Perhaps because the “formal features” of TV portray a reality that is so very different from actual reality (in real life viewpoints and scenes do not change instantaneously). Perhaps our brains are hardwired to always take note of novel and/or instantaneous activity.


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Why Does this Matter?

Gamma brainwaves are very important:

“Gamma waves are fast, high-frequency, rhythmic brain responses that have been shown to spike when higher cognitive processes are engaged. Research in adults and animals suggests that lower levels of gamma power might hinder the brain’s ability to efficiently package information into coherent images, thoughts and memories.”  – Science Daily (Oct 2008) See also Associated Content (April 2008)

“Analyzing the children’s EEGs (electroencephalograms), Benasich and her research team found that those with higher language and cognitive abilities had correspondingly higher gamma power than those with poorer language and cognitive scores. Similarly, children with better attention and inhibitory control, the ability to moderate or refrain from behavior when instructed, also had higher gamma power.” – Science Daily (Oct 2008) – and more at Scientific Blogging (Oct 2008)

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Affect on Child Brain Development

For more information see:

10 thoughts on “How TV Affects Brainwaves

  1. Just passing by.Btw, your website has great content!

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  2. Hi Mike

    Thank you !

    I appreciate the feedback.


  3. Exactly where did you actually get the points to compose ““How TV
    Effects Brainwaves tvSmarter”? Thanks for your time ,Iola


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  6. *affects*

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating article, thanks for sharing. I imagine something similar is happening neurologically with the current fixation with smaller screens—cell phones, iPads, etc. I highly recommend Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. He pulls together the latest neurological research to bolster his case that we are undergoing a massive social experiment that is having the effect of re-wiring our brains. Already the effects on our chopped-up attention spans are becoming apparent in plummeting scholastic scores of kids in school. The implications for an educated, well-informed citizenry capable of ‘big picture’ thinking that integrates information into a whole is not looking good. President Trump may be the first president to fully benefit from this degradation of peoples’ attention spans and thinking ability.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi seanarthurjoyce

      Thank you for your kind words. A as for the implications, I couldn’t agree with you more, and definitely “The Shallows” is an excellent book.

      Another post you might find interesting, on the first ever animal study looking at the effects of TV on the developing brain:

      It is disappointing that so few experimental studies have been on the effects of TV and video on the brain.



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